Memorial High School teacher Michael Godett knows a thing or two about hard work. The Marching Band director since 2004, Godett serves as the pit conductor for school musicals, an instructor for both electronic and music theory classes, and a director for concert band, jazz band, and wind ensemble. He also spends time performing with the New Jersey City University Concert Band.
This year Godett is tasked with what is perhaps his biggest challenge yet: rebuilding the marching band from the ground up. With many of the band’s members graduating last season, Godett has put together a group of roughly 40 students, roughly half of whom are beginning their first year in high school.
“We have a very young group this year,” said Godett.
“In my mind [the marching season] never stops,” continued Godett, adding that practices began in the beginning of the summer season. “We rehearsed every week.”
Godett also mentioned that the band met every day of the week for seven hours during the last two weeks of August.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge getting everyone up to the same level at this point,” added Godett. “That’s the big difficulty we’ve had this year.”
“Last year was a pretty good year,” said Umar Abbassi, a junior and trumpet player who also happens to play backup quarterback with the football team.
According to Abbassi, the band finished first, second, and third in three competitions last season. “This year we lost some people, but we’re still good.”
Despite a young group at the core, the band managed to place third during their first competition in Jefferson in late September. Earlier this month, the group also placed fourth and second in competitions in Roselle Park and Madison, respectively.
“It’s kind of intense in the moment,” said Marjorie Morai, a freshman and clarinet player. “It’s an experience. You get to compete with other bands and see how you sound.”
“Getting them to play music at this level is a big jump for most of them,” said Godett, who added that he does not place too much importance on the results in the competitions.
“It doesn’t matter what the scores say, or what the judges say,” continued Godett. “If the kids are proud of the work they’ve done, and think that they’ve played to the best of their ability, then I’m happy.”
Besides competition season, the band also performs at local parades, festivals, and other events, including the 9/11 memorial that took place last month.
“Whatever they call us up to do,” said Godett.
The band also plays during Friday night football games. According to Godett and students, the dynamic between the band, cheerleaders, and football team is relatively strong.
“I get along well with the football coach,” said Godett. “We do what we can to share the field [for practices].”
Some students participate with both the marching band and the football team, like Abbassi.
“We all have our own way of thinking,” said Abbassi. “Some people think the band helps cheer the [players] up during the games.”
He added, “Some people think it annoys them. For the most part, people actually like the band.”
According to Godett, the band’s halftime show has a different theme each year.
“For our halftime show we play music from Billy Joel,” said Godett, who mentioned that in past years the music included Santana songs as well as selections from the soundtrack of Pirates of the Caribbean.
“I like to change it up a little bit,” he said, “so the same kids aren’t playing the same stuff every year.”
For many, the marching band is a tight-knit community where friends can come together.
“I decided to join because I thought it would be a good experience and a chance to meet new people,” said Joel Cristobal, a freshman Alto Sax player. “I wanted to have new experiences and [have] different things to do in school.
“I joined band because I also wanted to meet new people,” said Marisol Gallardo, a freshman trumpet player. “I’m a shy person, and I decided to join to learn new things and have new experiences.”
Some, like Cristobal, enjoy the camaraderie associated with competing.
“It’s intense in the moment,” said Cristobal, “but it ended fun being with the whole band as a family.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.